Arts and Culture
A publicity image from the new series of Waterloo Road. Students are protesting, and the headteacher is trying to keep them under control.

Waterloo Road: What do Greater Manchester’s teachers make of the BBC series?

Waterloo Road, the Manchester school-based drama first broadcast in 2006, is back on our screens after seven years off the air, with a new cast and a return to its roots.

But what do four Manchester teachers who grew up with the original series make of the revival now they’re the ones in the staff room?

“As a child, I never believed so many issues of poverty, emotional distress and major incidents could exist in one single school,” says Katie Bosson, 26, a drama and music teacher at a Catholic school in Wythenshawe.

“But there are many schools in Greater Manchester that are just like Waterloo Road.”

Lewis Mamwell, 23, a science teacher at UTC Warrington, agrees.

He said: “It’s definitely dramatised, but the storylines are something I see on a daily basis. For example, friendship fallouts, homelessness, neglect, gangs, violence and mental health problems.

“These are real issues that young people and adults have to deal with and be aware of.”

Bronwen Ceri, 25, teaches history at a secondary school in Bolton.

She says artistic licence means viewers never see the full story.

“They’re limited in how many characters they can introduce, so can never replicate the enormous man power that goes into caring for and educating children,” she said.

“Take the storyline of the homeless pupil – that would see a full pupil welfare plan with several organisations working together.”

And the drama means the more menial side of teaching can be forgotten.

Joe Dwyer who has taught RE in Greater Manchester and is now based in Lancashire, says viewers might be forgiven for thinking teaching is a daily adrenalin rush.

“I love teaching, but a lot of things to do with it are boring,” said the 26-year-old. “Where are the teachers marking homework, setting up cover support, the more mundane aspects?”

And when there is drama at Waterloo Road, the behaviour of some teachers raises eyebrows.

Joe said: “I enjoy the show but watching it now as a teacher my safeguarding alarm is always sounding!”

Bronwen agrees: “Literally all the staff would be struck off!”

But for Katie, there is still truth in this depiction.

“The show demonstrates that children with behavioural issues are often crying out for help and teachers are often the first to take action,” she said.

“There can be an aspect of romanticism, but it shows teachers noticing small things that can create a bigger picture. It also shows them getting it wrong.”

The show returned with a bang at the start of the month, with an episode involving a riot protesting a slave-trader’s statue on the school grounds.

While the riot is an extreme scenario, all four teachers concur that students are aware of themes covered in the show.

“Students are now more perceptive and reactive to social justice issues,” says Bronwen. “My own school has seen demands from pupils in the form of petitions to have a more inclusive platform.”

Lewis added: “Students are a lot more clued up about the rights and wrongs in the world and know how to treat others with respect. Young people have a keen sense of right and wrong and know how to speak about things they find unjust.

“They may watch these shows with their parents, which allows dialogues to be brought up more easily about issues they’re facing.”

With many important themes covered, are there any the teachers would like to see tackled if the show is picked up for another series?

Katie and Bronwen mention the cost of living crisis as something affecting schools currently – both staff and children.

Lewis said: “The mental health of teachers is affected heavily by their jobs. Highlighting the struggles they face would help people see how stressful the job is.

“Non-teachers often say ‘teachers get lots of holidays’ and don’t understand why teachers strike, but seeing daily verbal abuse, being overworked and struggling to pay your bills would paint the job in a new light for a lot of people.”

Of course, it’s impossible for one show to represent everyone, but showing these issues on primetime TV inevitably leads to conversation about authenticity and responsibility, as well as the issues the plot raises.

Waterloo Road might not appeal to everyone, but there are clearly teachers as well as students in Manchester and across the country who still see themselves reflected in the show.

Photo: BBC Pictures

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